Benish Ali Bhat
Fifteen-year-old Zaira Wasim from Srinagar became the talk of the town after she landed a role in Bollywood biopic “Dangal”, produced by Aamir Khan Productions. She plays the child Geeta Poppat, India’s first female wrestler to win at 2010 Commonwealth games, and shares screen space with superstar Aamir Khan.
The journey from being just another girl at her school to a mini-celebrity was so fast that it took her completely unawares.
“No, I never even thought that I would act in a film. Never. I keep on telling people that it just happened,” says Zaira.
Before landing the role in the film, Zaira had acted in a few ads. She credits her school, St Pauls International Academy, for helping her with the role.
“I hardly knew I could act (films) but our principal made me act in a play at school. That turned out to be great,” says Zaira.
During that time a casting director came to the school looking for a model for an advertisement. This is when the school gave her name and she was cast.
“I did two ads and that was okay. Even then I didn’t realise that it would go beyond that,” says Zaira.
And then came a call that would create a storm in her life.
“It was a casting company that wanted a girl for a movie. When the news broke at home, it created havoc,” she said.
Her parents were averse to idea. “I was sure I wasn’t doing it and my father would never let me do it because for him what people think matters a lot.”
Her principal intervened again and her father agreed on the condition that he would accompany her to Mumbai and check things for himself. As fate had it, he liked things in Mumbai and gave Zaira a green signal.
“It wasn’t easy even then. I had to give a screen test and when I went there, every other girl I saw was a known face. I thought I came for nothing.”
However, she bagged the role, and a new phase began in her life. Zaira spent six months with the cast, during which she had to learn wrestling, swimming and a new dialect, before actually shooting for the film.
Describing her experience as a life changer, Zaira says,
“I am an introvert and hardly ever knew I could face a camera. I have had social anxiety and could hardly face people. I am a new person now. My self-esteem has gone up,” she said.
What seems like a fairy tale landing in Bollywood, has had its flipside too. As the news of her acting became public, she faced online criticism and abuse from Kashmiri netizens. Harsh and derogatory comments were posted online about her. She has learnt to face it though.
“People think that I have done some item song or something immoral, but that is not true. It’s a simple role of a teenager,” she said. “But it doesn’t matter, I have learnt to not care about what people say. What matters is that I know that I am right,” a confident Zaira says.
Zaira is back at her school, attending classes with her friends. She hasn’t decided on her career yet and prefers to call herself aimless. “I am like this bag of potatoes, completely clueless of what to do.”